The 1990s were a big decade that would prove useful moving forward into the future of filmmaking. Genre-wise, superhero movies were becoming bigger with some hits like Blade and the return of Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader in 1992’s Batman Returns. On the technology side of things, we saw a rise in CGI with some hits like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and some misses like the two Mortal Kombat movies and Spawn. In 1993, there was a little student project for Silver Surfer that would be a proof of concept for the rising technology.
In the late 80s and early 90s, some of Marvel’s rights to certain characters like the Silver Surfer were held by the German company Constantin Film. At the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, there was a student named Erik Fleming (My Brother the Pig), an aspiring filmmaker who had a passion for the metallic cosmic surfer. Joined by fellow student and friend Steven Robiner, the two made a pitch about a short film that would be a proof of concept for the character.
The short, which you can view below that was uploaded by YouTuber Patrick Schrage, gives a low-quality look at the five-minute short. It follows a team at NASA observing a flying object coming toward Earth. They run tests and say the usual science fiction mumbo jumbo as they figure out what is happening. Meanwhile, a group of young boys are bullying another kid until they are disrupted by the Silver Surfer, who surprisingly looks pretty decent for a 1990s low-budget short that was uploaded in 320x240p. The bullies are scared off, leading the hero to give the child his toy back before flying into the sky.
Unfortunately for Silver Surfer, Constantin Film was uninterested in what was shown. The heads of the company did not believe in a movie for the character, despite the buzz over the short. On top of that, there was interest from filmmakers to make a feature-length film on the character. Quentin Tarantino turned heads with Reservoir Dogs in 1992. It turned out the hot new director wanted to take a stab at a superhero blockbuster, but his debut was not enough to convince studio heads to let him put the character onto the big screen.
The Silver Surfer short film does have an interesting connection in terms of its style and use of CGI. A film that continue sto stand as one of the best special effects seen in action blockbusters was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Compared to the short that was released in 1993, in 1991, James Cameron’s (Avatar) second outing with time travel and killer robots was not only a hit, but its villain, T-1000, had a silvery liquid composition that is reminiscent of the silver Marvel character.
Erik Fleming directed the Silver Surfer project. Jeff Eastin wrote the script, and he was one of the few people attached to go on to bigger things by producing and writing Graceland and White Collar. The short was produced by Kevin Ackerman and Brandt Blanken. Fleming, Steven Robiner, and Rob Letterman (Pokemon: Detective Pikachu) executive produced. Letterman also worked on the special effects.
While the cast and most of the crew never rose to do much after Silver Surfer, the most notable name attached was Rob Letterman. While he left special effects behind, he focused more on directing further down the road. In 2005, he made his debut with Shark Tales with Will Smith, Robert De Niro, and Angelina Jolie. He continued with animated projects like 2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens that starred Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, and Seth Rogen. The director reteamed up with Shark Tales star Jack Black on Gulliver’s Travels in 2010 and 2015’s Goosebumps. In 2019, he found his biggest hit with Pokemon: Detective Pikachu.
The Silver Surfer has been in limbo since 2007’s Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The first movie was not well received, but it garnered a sequel that was even worse than its predecessor. The silvery character was physically played by Doug Jones (The Shape of Water) and voiced by Laurence Fishburne. Now that Disney acquired Fox, which bought the rights to the character in a few years after the short, we could always see the return of the iconic hero and occasional bad guy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.